Small businesses want the Chancellor to help fuel their growth

All SMEs want from the Budget is... a fuel duty stabilizer.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 12 Apr 2011
Asked which measure could be introduced in the Budget to best help their fortunes, the majority of Britain’s small- to medium-sized businesses said they want George Osborne to introduce a fuel duty stabilizer - a mechanism by which the Government could adjust fuel prices and ease the pain at the pumps when the cost of oil shoots up.

That’s according to IFF Research, which surveyed SME leaders and found that fuel was on the minds of 60% of respondents. Just 14% thought that lower corporate tax should be the main priority, against 12% wanting tax allowances raised and 6% favouring a reduction of employers’ NI contributions.

It may not be the most thrilling of potential gifts (it’s no shiny Nintendo 3DS), but these clearly aren’t times to be thinking of less flashy gifts. It’s all about the basics, which does make sense: businesses won’t get very far if it costs a week’s income to fill a van with diesel. Given how things are looking out in the Middle East right now, such firms can’t take anything for granted.

But it looks like they could be in for a disappointment come the Budget speech. George Osborne has hinted that a freeze on duty would be a possibility, and back in 2008, when the Conservatives were in opposition, they were quick to big up the idea. But now, as we approached the point when his money and his mouth should be occupying the same space, PM David Cameron has dithered on the issue, saying he can’t make any promises.

The fuel duty stabilizer has often been criticised as too complicated and expensive to introduce, and even as bad for the environment. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), however, published a report last month saying it wouldn’t be that hard. By basing the stabiliser on the oil price cycle, the level of fuel duty could be calculated against a trend price for oil. This would then be adjusted at regularly timed intervals following changes in the oil price cycle. Simple. Apparently.

The other alternative, says the FSB, is that businesses increase prices, freeze pay or even lay off staff. So it seems Osborne had better have something special up his sleeve as he holds that red box aloft tomorrow. 76% of SMEs agreed that ‘2011 is a make-or-break year for the economy so the decisions the Chancellor takes in the Budget will be critical’. Whatever he does, it’s bound to fuel something.

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